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International Domestic Workers' Day: Govt yet to address abuse of underage domestic help

  • Published at 12:30 am June 16th, 2019
Domestic Help-Dhaka Tribune
A child domestic help cleans utensils at a kitchen Dhaka Tribune

Lawsuits over violence against child domestic help are all filed under the Prevention of Women and Child Repression Prevention Act, instead of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006.

Research by several labour rights organizations shows that physical and other abuse of underage domestic workers continues in Bangladesh, and the government is yet to address the issue. 

Lawsuits over violence against child domestic help are all filed under the Prevention of Women and Child Repression Prevention Act, instead of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. 

In Jamalpur, for example, a teenage domestic aid was made pregnant  by her employer. The case filed against her employer was under the Prevention of Women and Child Repression Prevention Act, ensured Jamalpur Sadar police station Officer-in-Charge, Salemuzzaman.   

According to data collected from national and regional newspapers by the Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), some 217 domestic child workers became victims of some form of abuse at their workplaces in the last four years.  

Of them, 48 were murdered, 53 died under "mysterious circumstances" or committed suicide, 33 were raped, and 83 were physically abused. 

A recent survey, conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in collaboration with the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), found that around 33% of all domestic help in Bangladesh were children.

However, BSAF said the information they have from their own independent field surveys showed the number to be much higher than indicated in the ILO-RMMRU report, "A Study on Decent Work Deficits in Domestic Work in Bangladesh." 

Abdus Shahid Mahmood, director of BSAF, said: "Since domestic work falls under the informal sector, the Labour Act is not applicable to these workers. Additionally, none of the policies or initiatives have identified domestic work as a potential source of child labour."

Activists urge formalizing domestic work

Experts and rights activists said the lack of a specific law and lax implementation of the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy, 2015, is the main reason for the continued prevalence of the abuse of domestic workers and the engagement of child labour in the sector. 

Mahmudul Kabir, country director of Terre des Hommes, Netherlands, said: “Domestic aid is a form of child labour that remains hidden from society as it happens inside people's homes. Without permission from employers, no one can go into a house to monitor a domestic help's condition.” 

If domestic work could be formalized it would be much easier to prevent child labour in the sector, he added. 

Kamal Hossain, project director of Odhikar Pathshala, a project being implemented by the Eco-Social Development Organization (ESDO), said they found most domestic help employers unwilling to let researchers or surveyors into their homes to even discuss anything concerning their domestic helpers. 

Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) Director, Nazma Yesmin, identified exclusion from the Labour Act and the lack of unity of domestic workers, as a major threat to their well-being.

Nazma, also member secretary of Domestic Worker Rights Network, said if the policy adopted in 2015 is fully implemented, domestic work can be formalized. 

'Policy alone not enough'

However, BSAF director Abdus Shahid Mahmood said a policy alone would not be enough as it does not compel an employer to follow it. 

On May 20, speaking at an event in Dhaka, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mujibul Haque, also urged enacting the Domestic Worker Protection and Welfare Policy into law.

“We should make a law to protect domestic workers, particularly children,” said Mujibul, adding that people hiring children as domestic help would be more careful if the government ensures punishment for those breaching the law.

ATM Saiful Islam, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, confessed the issue of domestic workers is yet to be properly addressed.

He did however add that the government was already taking initiatives to eradicate the problems domestic workers face. “The recent policy has been formulated very carefully, to protect the domestic workers' rights. It includes a monitoring committee and an inspection team, to monitor the status of workers and their working conditions.” 

Member of the monitoring committee, Dr Abul Hossain,  project director of the Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence against Women under the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, said the monitoring committee acts upon receiving any complaints. 

"We are working for the betterment of all domestic workers in the country," he added.